- Whiskey vs. whisky and bourbon vs. scotch. The US and Ireland use the term “whiskey”. Everywhere else, especially in Scotland is used the term “whisky”. Bourbon is made in the US. Scotch is made in Scotland. There are different categories of Scotch whisky (whiskey). Bourbon has no minimum specified duration for its aging period. Products aged for as little as three months are sold as bourbon. Straight bourbon is an exception.
- Brandy vs. Cognac vs. Armagnac. Brandy is a distillate made from fermented juice, mash, fruit wine or fruit residues. Cognac is the most famous brandy and it comes from the Cognac region of France. The most expensive cognac has a price tag of 2 million $. Armagnac is another popular French brandy produced since 1422. It must originate from the Armagnac district of France and must be so labeled.
- Pirates and sailors used rum to keep the crew hydrated, because water quickly went rancid. Rum does not have any set production methods, with the methods varying depending on the region where the distillers are located.
- Vodka vs. Gin vs. Rakija vs. Homemade distilled beverages vs. Tequila. Traditionally, vodka is made by the distillation of fermented cereal grains or potatoes, though some modern brands use other substances, such as fruits or sugar. Gin has to predominantly taste like juniper. Unlike vodkas, there are diverse tastes of different gins. Rakija is a fruit brandy made on the Balkans and it normally has 40% abv (80° proof). Homemade distilled beverages can reach up to 50-80% abv (100-160° proof). Flavors are produced from plums, apricots and grapes. It is illegal to distill beverage alcohol without a license anywhere in the US. Tequila got its name after the city of Tequila in Mexico. It is made from the blue agave plant. Tequila is recognized as a Mexican designation of origin product in more than 40 countries. The color of the tequila varies greatly on the aging process and the type of wood used for storage.
- What else does liquor contain beside alcohol (ethanol)? Liquor may contain fermentation byproducts; these are other (minor) constituents – other alcohols. The formation of the most dominant compounds occurring in beverages depend more on the yeast selected than the raw materials used in fermentation. The aroma of the distilled beverages is affected by many factors, such as the kind of yeast used, the fermentation conditions, technique of distillation and the maturing of the beverage. So far, a total of 84 aroma components are known and identified.
- Studies about low to moderate alcohol consumption and heart health are conflicting. Some studies show, that all kinds of liquor will raise the good HDL cholesterol levels, thereby helping the heart. Other studies point out that any exposure to alcohol has a negative impact upon heart health.
- One rule remains: if there is no portion control – problems will definitely arise!! One of those health problems is – alcoholism.
There are countless synonyms for alcohol. We call it booze, drink, liquor, sauce, spirits, hard stuff, elixir, solvent, poison…
How much, how many times per day? There are countless posts, books, newspaper and health magazine articles about how much alcohol should we consume. In this post, I’m not going to write about alcohol being bad for the health. We know what it does, we know it’s bad, we still drink it.
To be honest, I drink liquor rarely, but I do appreciate a good brandy and a good whiskey (whisky). Not bourbon, although bourbon is also a whiskey (or whisky), but not all whiskeys (whiskies) are bourbon. Are you confused yet?
I like red wine, but we’ll leave wines for another post. In this one, I’m concentrating on distilled drinks (>35%). These include whiskey or whisky, vodka, gin, tequila, brandy, homemade “stuff” (wherever is legal) and so on.
WHISKEY VS. WHISKY AND BOURBON VS. SCOTCH
I think you have noticed, that I’m using both terms above – whiskey and whisky, as I don’t want to have angry Scottish and American readers. People who really, really like whiskey (whisky) aggressively defend either term, therefore, in order to avoid unforgivable mistakes in their eyes, I have decided to use both terms. Don’t worry people, I understand. We all defend and stand for many things. That’s a good thing.
So, the deference:
Whiskey – That’s how it’s called in the US and Ireland.
Whisky – That’s how it’s called everywhere else, especially in Scotland.
Bourbon – That’s made in the US.
Scotch – That’s made in Scotland.
The word “whiskey”, pardon “whisky”, is derived from the classical Gaelic phrase uisce beatha or uisge-beatha, and it literally means: water of life. I must say, that sounds pretty cool. (1)
“Scotch Whisky” means a whisky (whiskey, sorry Scottish people) produced in Scotland.
- It must be distilled at a distillery in Scotland from water and malted barley (to which only whole grains of other cereals may be added) all of which have been:
- processed at that distillery into a mash;
- converted at that distillery into a fermentable substrate only by endogenous enzyme systems; and
- fermented at that distillery only by the addition of yeast;
- it must be distilled at an alcoholic strength by volume of less than 94.8 per cent, so that the distillate has an aroma and taste derived from the raw materials used in, and the method of, its production;
- it must be matured only in oak casks of a capacity not exceeding 700 liters;
- it must be matured only in Scotland;
- it must be matured for a period of not less than three years;
- it must be matured only in an excise warehouse or a permitted place;
- it must retain the color, aroma and taste derived from the raw materials used in, and the method of, its production and maturation;
- to which no substance is added, or to which no substance is added except—
- plain caramel coloring; or
- water and plain caramel coloring; and
- it must have a minimum alcoholic strength by volume of 40%.
There are different categories of Scotch whisky (whiskey):
“Single Malt Scotch Whisky” means a Scotch Whisky (whiskey) that has been distilled in one or more batches—
- at a single distillery;
- from water and malted barley without the addition of any other cereals; and
- in pot stills.
“Single Grain Scotch Whisky” means a Scotch Whisky (whiskey) that has been distilled at a single distillery except—
- Single Malt Scotch Whisky; or
- a Blended Scotch Whisky.
“Blended Malt Scotch Whisky” means a blend of two or more Single Malt Scotch Whiskies (whiskeys) that have been distilled at more than one distillery;
“Blended Grain Scotch Whisky” means a blend of two or more Single Grain Scotch Whiskies (whiskeys) that have been distilled at more than one distillery; and
“Blended Scotch Whisky” means a blend of one or more Single Malt Scotch Whiskies (whiskeys) with one or more Single Grain Scotch Whiskies (whiskeys). (2)
Bourbon whiskey (whisky) is (must be) produced in the US (Kentucky comes to mind when we talk bourbon), produced at not exceeding 160° proof from a fermented mash of not less than 51 percent corn, and stored at not more than 125° proof in charred new oak containers and bottled at 80 proof or more. (3)
Bourbon has no minimum specified duration for its aging period. (4) Products aged for as little as three months are sold as bourbon. (5) Of course, there is an exception and it’s called straight bourbon. That one has to be aged for more than two years, and any bourbon that is aged for less than four years must have an age statement on its label. (6)
“Blended bourbon” may contain added coloring, flavoring, and other spirits (such as un-aged neutral grain spirits); but at least 51% of the product must be straight bourbon. (7)
Irish whiskey (whisky) is also popular, that is – whiskey (whisky) which is a distinctive product of Ireland, manufactured either in the Republic of Ireland or in Northern Ireland, in compliance with their laws regulating the manufacture of Irish whiskey (whisky) for home consumption. If such product is a mixture of whiskeys (whiskies), such mixture is – “blended Irish whiskey” (Irish whiskey—a blend).
BRANDY VS. COGNAC VS ARMAGNAC
Brandy is a distillate made from fermented juice, mash, fruit wine or fruit residues. The name comes from the Dutch word brandewijn, which means “burnt wine”. (8) It is distilled at less than 190° proof (95% abv – alcohol in volume) in such a manner as to produce the taste, aroma and characteristics generally attributed to brandy. It must be aged at least 2 years in oak barrels, otherwise it must be labeled immature.
Brandies are distilled in two ways: by using a batch or continuous systems. The first one yields a more flavorful product and the other one yields a lighter flavor. The first distillate using a copper pot still is taken off at 60° proof (30 % abv) and then it is redistilled to 148-160° proof (74-80 % abv). Brandy is matures in charred – oak barrels for 2-8 years and bottled at 80° proof (40% abv) or higher. (9) The wooden containers deepen its color to amber. The use of paraffin-lined casks or earthenware maintains the original clear color, and the addition of a caramel solution darkens its color. (10)
Cognac is the most famous brandy and it comes from the Cognac region of France. It is double distilled (white wines are distilled) in traditional pot stills by small farmers and sold to the blenders for aging in limousine oak casks. The white wines are really dry and acidic, meaning – disgusting and undrinkable, but after distillation and aging (and blending) out comes a drink with an elegant aroma. (11)
The official quality grades of cognac are these:
- S. (“very special”) or ✯✯✯ (three stars) designates a blend in which the youngest brandy has been stored for at least two years in a cask.
- S.O.P. (“very superior old pale”) or Reserve designates a blend in which the youngest brandy is stored for at least four years in a cask.
- XO (“extra old”) or Napoléon designates a blend in which the youngest brandy is stored for at least six years. In 2016, the minimum storage age of the youngest brandy used in an XO blend will be set to ten years.
- Hors d’âge (“beyond age”) is a designation which BNIC states is equal to XO, but in practice the term is used by producers to market a high-quality product beyond the official age scale. (12)
The most expensive cognac has a price tag of 2 – 3.5 million €. It is described as the ‘DNA of Cognac’, a 100-year-old bottling, that is one of the rarest and most expensive drinks on the planet. The Cognac comes in a 24-carat gold and sterling platinum bottles that is peppered with 6,500 diamonds. The expression itself was first produced in 1776 and was named to honor King Henri IV. (13)
Armagnac is another popular French brandy produced since 1422. It must originate from the Armagnac district of France and must be so labeled. Armagnac is usually distilled once, resulting in 52% of alcohol (around 104° proof) and it is described as fuller, richer and more mellow than Cognac. Armagnac is produced from wines using continuous copper stills and is aged in oak casks. (9)
The name “Rum” is sometimes used as a generic name for an intoxicating liquor. The origin of the term “rum” is unclear and there are various different possibilities as to how the name came by. British etymologist, Samuel Morewood in his 1824 essay stated that the word “rum” was a British slang term from “the best”. Morewood also suggested another possibility that the word was taken from the last syllable of the Latin word, “saccharum”, meaning “sugar”. (14)
When I was searching info about rum, a question came to mind: “why do pirates in every cartoon and movie drink rum?”
Well, it turns out, not just pirates but all sailors used to live off of rum. Why? Because, back in the day, to keep the crew hydrated, ships typically stored three types of liquid sustenance: water, beer, and rum. First, they’d drink the water, but because it was first to go rancid, they could only rely on it for so long before turning to the beer—which has a longer shelf life. When the beer was drank, they’d move on to the rum, which could sit in the ship’s bowels for the longest period of time without going bad. (15)
Rum is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from sugarcane byproducts, such as molasses or sugarcane juices. Similar to most alcoholic beverages, rum must go through the process of distillation, fermentation and aging. Depending on the geographical region of the product, rums differ in taste, color and strength.
Majority of the rum in the world is produced in the Caribbean and Latin America, with selected other countries such as India, Spain, New Zealand, Mexico, Brazil and Barbados. Rum does not have any set production methods, with the methods varying depending on the region where the distillers are located.
During fermentation, the water and yeast is added to the base ingredient, allowing the yeast to break down the sugar. Depending on the type of yeast used for fermentation, the taste and aroma of the rum varies. (14)
After distillation, the rum is required to be aged for at least one year in many countries. The aging process could be done in wooden casks (natural or charred) as well as in stainless steel tanks.
The rum in the wooden casks is darker in appearance, while the rum in stainless steel tanks remains colorless. Caramel coloring can also be added to rum to adjust the color of the final product before it is bottled. (14)
The final secret of an unmistakably fine rum, is blending. This is also the final step of the rum-making process. The blender uses many different types and styles of rum to create a brand.
The blender then selects the barrels of rums that will be used in a particular blend based on the age, type and style of rum that it contains. These different rums are then hand-blended, and the liquid is then placed in oak vats where they undergo a “marrying” process. The “marrying” process allows the different rums to fuse together, and it also has a smoothing or toning effect on the rum. After blending, rum is ran into bottling vats and reduced to bottling strength by the addition of pure water. From the bottling vats the rum is passed through filters and polishers and then sent to be bottled and packaged. (16)
There are multiple grades of rum:
Dark rums – Usually made from caramelized sugar or molasses and generally aged longer in heavily charred barrels. It has a much stronger flavor than light or gold rums.
Flavored rums – These are rums that are infused with flavors of fruit such as mango, orange, banana, citrus, coconut, lime, or star fruit. They usually have under 40% abv (80° proof).
Gold rums – Also known as amber rums, are aged in wooden barrels. They also have a stronger taste than that of the light rum.
Light rums – Also referred to as “silver” or “white” rums have very little flavor and are generally sweet. They are also often filtered after aging to remove color.
Overproof rums – These are rums with a higher alcohol content than the standard 40% abv. Proof can go as high as 160° (80% abv).
Premium rums – These are from boutique brands that are carefully produced and aged. These rums have more character and flavor.
Spiced rums – Rums that obtain flavors through addition of spices and sometimes, caramel. (14)
VODKA VS. GIN VS. RAKIJA AND HOMEMADE DISTILLED BEVERAGES VS. TEQUILA
Traditionally, vodka is made by the distillation of fermented cereal grains or potatoes, though some modern brands use other substances, such as fruits or sugar.
The European Union has established a minimum of 37.5% abv (75° proof) for any “European vodka” to be named as such. Products sold as “vodka” in the United States must have a minimum alcohol content of 40% (80° proof). Polish, Russian and Swedish vodkas are most popular.
Filtering is sometimes done in the still during distillation, as well as afterwards, where the distilled vodka is filtered through activated charcoal and other media to absorb trace amounts of substances that alter or impart off-flavors to the vodka. However, this is not the case in the traditional vodka-producing nations, so many distillers from these countries prefer to use very accurate distillation but minimal filtering, thus preserving the unique flavors and characteristics of their products.
Repeated distillation of vodka will make its ethanol level much higher than is acceptable to most end users, whether legislation determines strength limits or not. Depending on the distillation method and the technique of the stillmaster, the final filtered and distilled vodka may have as much as 95–96% ethanol. As such, most vodka is diluted with water prior to bottling. Flavorings can include red pepper, ginger, fruit flavors, vanilla, chocolate (without sweetener), and cinnamon. (17)
Gin has to predominantly taste like juniper. Unlike vodkas, there are diverse tastes of different gins. Citrus, nuts, and spices all commonly find their way into gin recipes. There are two primary ways to flavor gin: either flavors are added to a distilled spirit and bottle it, or botanicals are infused into the spirit by distilling them together.
Rakija is a fruit brandy made on the Balkans and it normally has 40% abv (80° proof).
Homemade beverages can reach up to 50-80% abv (100-160° proof). Flavors are produced from plums, apricots and grapes. Other fruits can also be used, but that’s less common. (20) It is illegal to distill beverage alcohol without a license anywhere in the US.
Tequila got its name after the city of Tequila in Mexico. It is made from the blue agave plant. Mexican laws state that tequila can only be produced in the state of Jalisco and limited municipalities in the states of Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas. Tequila is recognized as a Mexican designation of origin product in more than 40 countries. It is most often made at a 38% abv (76° proof) for domestic consumption, but can be produced between 31 and 55% abv (62 and 110° proof).
Tequila comes in an abundant array of colors that ranges from a simple clear distilled beverage to a dark amber brown. The color of the tequila varies greatly on the aging process and the type of wood used for storage. (21)
- The white version of tequila, known as silver tequila or blanco, is the product obtained with very little or without additional aging process. It must contain between 38-55% abv (76-110° proof), which is fermented from a wort, that contains no less than 51% sugars from the agave plant. Consuming silver tequila provides for the purest form as little aging has occurred.
- The gold, joven or oro tequila is usually silver tequila with the addition of grain alcohols and caramel color, however, some higher end gold tequilas may be a blend of silver and reposado.
- Rested (reposado) or aged tequila (añejo) are aged in wooden containers. The aging process can last between two months and three years and can create or enhance flavors and aromas. The aging process generally imparts a golden color.
- Extra aged or ultra aged (Extra Añejo) is aged a minimum of three years in oak barrels, this category was established in March 2006. (21)
Some of the distilled beverages are made of ethanol and water, like vodka, for example. Some contain other chemicals and additives. So, a question:
WHAT ELSE DOES LIQUOR CONTAIN, BESIDE ALCOHOL (ETHANOL)?
Beside ethanol, a study has shown, that many spirits also contain other (minor) constituents – other alcohols, such as: methanol, propanol-1-ol, 2-methylpropan-1-ol, 2-methylbutan-1-ol, 3-methylbutan-1-ol, etc. These usually represent fermentation byproducts. Methanol is commonly associated to the starting material (sugar, cereal or fruit), because of its origin by hydrolysis of methylated pectins. (22)
Another study has shown, that the formation of the most dominant compounds occurring in beverages depend more on the yeast selected than the raw materials used in fermentation. During fermentation, carbonyl compounds, fusel alcohols, fatty acid esters, and free fatty acids are formed by yeast. Also in sugar fermentation, different yeast can form isopentyl alcohol, phenethyl alcohol, and their acetates in addition to the ethyl esters from hexanoate to laurate. (23)
While the distilled spirits from wine, sugarcane and grain are in oak barrels, it has been proven, that ellagitannins are extracted from the wood. Ellagitannins are diverse class of hydrolyzable tannins, that have been investigated in cells and animals in laboratories for antioxidant activities. (24) (25)
The aroma of the distilled beverages is affected by many factors, such as the kind of yeast used, the fermentation conditions, technique of distillation and the maturing of the beverage. While this maturation is in progress, some aroma components may be formed, while others may disappear as consequence of chemical reactions.
In a study, scientists have identified aroma components of a whiskey (whisky):
In the drinks, the distillation procedure naturally restricts all the aroma groups, carbonyl compounds, alcohols, esters and acids. During fractionation, the proportion of the aroma compounds change, and may be quite different from those in the fermented solution. (26)
So far, a total of 84 aroma components are known and identified. (26) Huge number, right? But, don’t worry, animal experiments have shown that the aroma compounds in alcoholic beverages are not harmful to health. (27) Studies about low to moderate alcohol consumption and heart health are conflicting. Some studies show, that all kinds of liquor will raise the good HDL cholesterol levels, thereby helping the heart. (28) Other studies point out that any exposure to alcohol has a negative impact upon heart health. (29)
A couple of studies have suggested wine-drinkers to enjoy “greater health benefits” than beer and spirits drinkers. But, we’ll talk about wine and beer some other time. Moreover, it is emphasized that the effect of alcohol on the risk of cardiovascular and other diseases is highly dependent on the distribution of other risk factors in the population under study. (28) (30)
But, no – alcohol can NOT be considered a heart medicine!
The newest guideline says men and women should drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week, these units should be spread out through the week and they should have at least two alcohol-free days a week.
ONE RULE REMAINS: IF THERE IS NO PORTION CONTROL – PROBLEMS WILL DEFINITELLY ARISE!!
And one of those problems – is alcoholism. More about it in my next post.
- Wikipedia. Online Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uisce_beatha#cite_note-uisge-3 (12.11.2016)
- Online Source: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2009/2890/regulation/3/made (12.11.2016)
- Online Source: http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/retrieveECFR?gp=&SID=eec3207a98e8f97b1bd84054af11e265&mc=true&n=pt27.1.5&r=PART&ty=HTML (12.11.2016)
- The Chuck Cowdery Blog. Online Source: http://chuckcowdery.blogspot.si/2009/12/favorite-whiskey-myths-debunked.html (12.11.2016)
- Spirits Review, by Chris Carlsson. Online Source: http://spiritsreview.com/reviews-bourbon-hudson-baby.html (12.11.2016)
- Online Source: http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=57b5394734f53825e7e126b2cf0883bb&mc=true&node=se27.1.5_140&rgn=div8 (12.11.2016)
- Online Source: http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=57b5394734f53825e7e126b2cf0883bb&mc=true&node=se27.1.5_122&rgn=div8 (12.11.2016)
- Online Source: https://www.britannica.com/topic/brandy (12.11.2016)
- Othmer K.: Food and Feed Technology. Volume 1. Wiley.2007. p.151
- Online Source: https://www.britannica.com/topic/brandy (12.11.2016)
- Saveur. Online Source: http://www.saveur.com/article/Wine-and-Drink/How-Good-is-Cognac (12.11.2016)
- Online Source: http://www.cognac.fr/cognac/pdf/etiquette_texte_anim_en.pdf (12.11.2016)
- The Spirits Business. Online Source: http://www.thespiritsbusiness.com/2014/07/ten-of-the-worlds-most-expensive-cognacs/11/ (12.11.2016)
- Online Source: http://www.differencebetween.info/difference-between-rum-and-brandy (12.11.2016)
- Forbes. Online Source: http://www.forbes.com/sites/sethporges/2012/11/29/7-things-you-probably-didnt-know-about-rum/#6dad147c8543 (12.11.2016)
- Online Source: https://web.archive.org/web/20031120185725/http://www.knet.co.za/psrum/manufacturing_rum.htm (12.11.2016)
- Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vodka (12.11.2016)
- Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gin (12.11.2016)
- Forbes. http://www.forbes.com/sites/sethporges/2013/06/29/6-things-you-probably-didnt-know-about-gin/#7cb4ac1c7c8e (12.11.206)
- Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rakia (12.11.2016)
- Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tequila (12.11.2016)
- D.B. Lisle, C.P. Richards, D.F. Wardleworth: The Identification of Distilled Alcoholic Beverages. J. Inst. Brew. 84 (1978): 93-96. Online Source: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/j.2050-0416.1978.tb03845.x/epdf (12.11.2016)
- L. Nykänen: Formation and Occurrence of Flavor Compounds in Wine and Distilled Alcoholic Beverages. American Journal of Enology and Viticulture. 37 (1986): 84-96 Online Source: http://www.ajevonline.org/content/37/1/84.short (12.11.2016)
J.L.Puech, P. Rabier, J. Bories-Azeau, F. Sarni, M. Moutounet: Determination of ellagitannins in extracts of oak wood and in distilled beverages matured in oak barrels. Journal – Association of Official Analytical Chemists. 1990. 73(4): 498-501 Online Source: http://europepmc.org/abstract/med/2211469 (12.11.2016)
J.A. Ascacio-Valdés, J.J. Buenrostro-Figueroa, A. Aguilera-Carbo, A. Prado-Barragán, R. Rodríguez-Herrera, C.N. Aguilar: Ellagitannins: Biosynthesis, biodegradation andbiological properties. Journal of Medicinal Plants Research. 2011. 5 (19): 4696-4703. Online Source: http://www.academia.edu/15107439/Ellagitannins_Biosynthesis_biodegradation_and_biological_properties (12.11.2016)
H. Suomalainen: Yeast and its Effects on the Flavour of Alcoholic Beverages. Journal of The Institute of Brewing. 77 (1970): 164-177. Online Source: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/j.2050-0416.1971.tb03370.x/epdf (12.11.2016)